200m of new tunnels being dug at National Coal Mining Museum: Reporter Sam Casey goes underground
Nov 16 2010 by Sam Casey, Huddersfield Daily Examiner
Mining is taking place at the National Coal Mining Museum for the first time in 23 years. Reporter SAM CASEY went along to find out about the excavation of new tunnels that will be opened to the public in 2012.
TOUR guides still carry flame safety lamps when they go underground at the National Coal Mining Museum.
Used since the early 1900s, the lamps tell miners if there are dangerous levels of gas below the surface.
“If the flame gets larger, it means there’s a high level of methane. If it goes out, that means there’s not enough oxygen,” mine manager Willie McGranaghan says.
The fact that this traditional safety device is still in use is proof that some things at the museum, at Overton, near Flockton, never change.
But the tourist attraction’s very existence gives weight to the philosophy that sometimes you have to adapt or die.
Caphouse Colliery, on which the museum now stands, was consigned to history in 1985.
Three years later, its history became its future when the museum opened chronicling two centuries of pit life.
In 1988 the first visitors took the 450ft journey underground to see for themselves how miners worked.
Since then, 120,000 visitors a year have taken the tour around the 500m network of tunnels.
Now, thanks to a £1.9m Lottery grant, mining has started once again – not to produce coal, but to extend the facilities on offer.
Hundreds of tonnes of rock are being excavated to create 200m of new tunnels.
Willie said: “This is the first bit of mineral that has come out of Caphouse since 1987 when they were doing the original tunnels.
“I’m a miner and this is a pit – cutting the coal, that’s what I love – so seeing this happen seems right.”
In a project that will cost £2.7m in total, work is being carried out to create underground classrooms, a geology section, interactive activities to show youngsters the sights and sounds of mining, a “touch and feel” sensory section, and areas for working machinery.
A furnace shaft – used to bring air into the mine from the surface – is being restored and will be open to the public for the first time since 1940.
Once finished, it will be topped with a glass floor that will allow people at ground level to see into the heart of the shaft.